Inside the circle of blood on the wall, Benjamin recognized the off-center C with an L rotated and placed inside the C to make an implied chainsaw. The woman who’d painted it with her blood remained motionless on the ground. Her pool of blood never reached the edge of the stage. The crowd’s tension pulsed louder than the words they spoke. They all think themselves so refined until they face these monsters. But Ben knew that was his inner bravado.
“Where did the windows go?” Melody asked.
Melody’s voice stayed low and Ben couldn’t tell if anyone else heard, but when he turned his head, he found black walls. Windows used to expose the art patrons to the city outside, and the outside city watched back. The curtains blacked out any background light.
“I don’t think The Artist is ready to show his work to the world yet,” Ben said.
A slight confusion dawned on Melody’s face. That’s right, she didn’t grow up around here. Ben tried not to bring up anything about The Artist in the past because that would mean he needed to tell Melody everything about last year. She needs to know why she should stay afraid. Ben fought through the images of Barry bleeding out through four needle lines, Luke disappearing from the world in shakes and tremors of a citrate overdose, and April’s accidental death.
“The Artist is our local serial killer, but they locked him away twenty years ago,” Ben said. “That drawing on the wall, the one in blood is The Artist’s Mark. It means he’s sanctioning this event.”
“There are events he doesn’t sanction?” Melody asked.
“That’s not important right now. I need you to worry about staying close to me. I can’t protect you any more than some other person, but when Officer Lyle gets here, he may only save a few of us.”
Melody took a step back. The fear reflected against the artificial lights in her eyes. Something blacked out the windows. The Author’s Mark glimmered in the overbearing lights.
“Why do you think it’s better we stick together? If we can get the entire group to stand with us…”
Melody trailed off, and Ben turned to follow her gaze. A man had dropped his hood and held a finger to his lips. Ben grabbed Melody’s shoulder, though he wanted to hold her face one more time.
“I can’t tell you why,” Ben said, “but I need you to trust me. Stay with me, no matter what, and we might get out alive.”
The man with the dropped hood tapped Ben’s shoulder and gestured toward the far wall where a blank screen covered The Artist’s Mark. A click and a soft hum later, an image of a man in a white walled jail cell appeared.